Wednesday, January 16, 2008

More on the Mind Does the Tasting

The above cartoon is courtesy of Bob Johnson’s design weblog and can be found here. Check it out - there's some really funny cartoons on that site.

I had some more thoughts about yesterday’s post regarding the Cal Tech experiment in which, not surprisingly, people preferred what they thought was the more expensive wine even though in reality the price was much lower than what they were told it was.

It reminded me of a time long ago and far away when I was a young audio fanatic. The time had come for me to graduate to separate components, that is, a discrete amplifier and a preamplifier for my stereo rather than having an all-in-one receiver that had both plus a radio tuner all in one cabinet.

A powerful amplifier going by the moniker Ampzilla, made by Great American Sound, was high on the charts back then. I went to a store to audition it. It sounded good to me. The salesman even offered to let me take it home and try it out – didn’t even ask me for a deposit! I tried it at home and thought it was great.

Then before returning the Ampzilla, I went to another store to see what they had. This store didn’t sell the Ampzilla. The salesperson made a convincing case for what he said was a hands-down better amplifier, one made by Technics. I was skeptical. Ampzilla was getting all the rave reviews in the stereo magazines and I hadn’t heard anything about the Technics.

He told me to bring in the Ampzilla to do a side-by-side comparison. He hooked it up, asked me to choose what record album (vinyl.. no CD’s back then!) I wanted to audition, and away we went. I chose Santana’s Amigos album, in particular the track titled “Europa.”

As he switched back and forth between the two amps, I honestly could not hear any difference. All the while he kept pointing out how Carlos Santana’s guitar was so much clearer and cleaner through the Technics amp. He also pointed out various other differences very specifically, some merely nuances and some supposedly quite obvious, none of which I could discern.

So what was going through my head? Either he was making this up, or he had golden ears and I had plastic ears and I would look like a fool if I said I didn’t hear a difference.

Price: the Ampzilla was a lot more expensive than the Technics.

What did I end up buying? I bought the Technics. Part of it was due to the price difference since I really couldn’t afford the Ampzilla anyway, but part of it was because I believed what the salesman told me even though my own ears didn’t confirm it.

Which brings me to another reason why people may say they prefer the more expensive wine, and find it more enjoyable.

They don’t want to look stupid.

After all, it is easy to be intimidated by wine especially in the presences of a person who asserts themselves as an expert. Are most people going to argue with the sommelier? Or the person who is an avid collector with a big cellar? When it doubt, agree with Parker. But if you don’t know what Parker said about a wine, then go by how expensive the wine is,

The salesperson at the stereo store psyched me out because he was so confident about himself. And the Technics amp? Actually it was very good. It sounded great, it lasted a long time, wound up getting some great reviews in the stereo mags and it didn’t lighten my wallet as much as the Ampzilla would have. Nevertheless, my mind always wondered what it would have been like had I taken the other path.

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